Liberty Pole Spirits preserves whiskey’s proud heritage

WhiskeyRebellionIt’s a long, long way from insurrection.

After winning the Revolutionary War, the fledgling United States had a large war debt, owed to allies, on its budget books. As if to start a tradition, a new tax on distilled spirits was proposed by then Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, signed into law, then foisted upon the colonists to begin U.S. debt reduction.

Jim Hough, co-owner of Liberty Pole Spirits in Washington, Pennsylvania, explains the importance of whiskey (and spirits) to small distillers and farmers in the mid-late 1700s: “Small frontier distillers made whiskey out of necessity; it was safer to drink than the water, and used as a way to preserve crops, and for trade.”

Jim and Ellen Hough, owners, proprietors, and distillers of Liberty Pole Spirits, located at 68 West Maiden Street in Washington, Pennsylvania, provide fine spirits and Whiskey Rebellion education at their 1800s style Meeting House on site.

While those in the northeast paid the tax, those in the western regions, particularly western Pennsylvania, decided the tax simply would not be collected. “Many Scotch-Irish came here because of the taxes levied on them by the Crown in England, and rebelled because this was the same thing they got away from,” Hough said.

According to Hough’s Liberty Pole Spirits web site, Washington County farmers used whiskey as a form of barter to increase their survival chances in difficult times. The tax threatened their chances, so they formed The Mingo Creek Society at a meeting house near Mingo Creek in Washington County, vowing to never pay the excise tax.

“Liberty Poles” symbolized the farmers’ unity against the tax, and were decorated with scraps of fabric bearing the words “No excise tax,” Hough explained. Liberty Poles Spirits’ location has what Hough calls “…the Tom the Tinker Dining Room. If you decided to pay the tax, Tom the Tinker would come around for a visit to encourage you to not pay the taxes” Hough explained, adding that the dining room is available for private parties, events, and tastings.

For three years, beginning with the tax becoming law in 1791, until government forces squashed the insurrection in 1794, the rebels in Pennsylvania and elsewhere successfully prevented the tax from being collected. While a number were eventually arrested for the insurrection, all would be pardoned.

Jim and Ellen Hough’s Liberty Pole Spirits distillery, noted as the 1,000th distillery in the United States by the American Distilling Institute, provides patrons with as “…authentic 1800s style meeting house as we can offer,” Hough said. Period antiques, a Colonial fireplace, long wooden tables, a podium, Liberty Pole, and Mingo Creek Society flag complete the Meeting Room’s authentic feel. As a real plus, patrons may sample what’s on hand, buy cocktails, or buy Liberty Pole products right on site.

While many distillers in the present craft spirits boom create whiskey and vodka, Hough states that Liberty Pole Spirits crafts only whiskey using stills equipped with whiskey heads. The Houghs’ flavor choices are “driven by the desire to do something different, like our corn whiskey. It’s light and something we consider a summer whiskey,”

Unique to Liberty Pole Spirits is their Bassett Town Whiskey, named for the time Washington, PA was known as Bassett Town. This triple distilled rye whiskey’s clear appearance is the result of a short stay in the charred oak barrels, which usually give aged whiskey its light amber color. Hough said it’s “what we feel the Monongahela rye would have been like” during Whiskey Rebellion times.

“We’re excited to be here and it’s been a long-time dream to put together a distillery where people can enjoy whiskey and learn about the history of the area,” Hough said.

FMI: Call 724-403-4014 or visit them online at libertypolespirits.com for product information and store hours.

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges